Shaky Latvia gears up for new government

  • 2007-11-14
  • By Talis Saule Archdeacon
RIGA - Latvia's Parliament has approved the appointment of three new ministers while speculation continues to run rampant about the composition of the next government 's and indeed the future of the country's four-party ruling coalition 's  following Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis' Nov. 7 announcement that he will step down on Dec. 5.
On Nov. 8 Parliament approved Maris Riekstins, formerly the head of the prime minister's staff, as the country's new foreign minister. Edgars Zalans, mayor of the western Latvian town of Kuldiga, was appointed municipal affairs minister, and parliamentary secretary Iveta Purne was appointed welfare minister. Riekstins and Zalans are both members of the ruling People's Party.

The new ministers were appointed following a vote of 52 to 23, with 15 lawmakers abstaining. No replacement has yet been named for Economy Minister Juris Strods, who resigned in mid-September for personal reasons.
Meanwhile, speculation continues about possible candidates to replace Kalvitis and what the priorities of the new government will be.
Coalition parties agreed on Nov. 12 to form a workgroup to discuss the main targets of the new government and to analyze the mistakes of the current cabinet. The workgroup would be made up of members from both the ruling coalition and the opposition New Era party.
"I would like to see an economically strong person in the position of the new prime minister," Kalvitis told journalists on Nov. 8.

"There are only a few people who could solve the economic problems… The most competent economists are, for example, Edmunds Krastins [head of the People's Party faction in the Riga City Council] and [Interior Minister] Ivars Godmanis, as well as [Finance Minister Oskars] Spurdzins," the prime minister said.
"They are high level politicians who understand the situation and are ready to be unpopular," he said.
In a Nov. 12 interview with Latvian public radio, President Valdis Zatlers said that he will not choose the new government by himself, and that political parties need to discuss the new government keeping the larger picture in mind.

"I hope that the parties will successfully choose their candidates. It is not an issue of one person or one party 's it is the issue of the whole country," the president said.
The prime minister has also encouraged cooperation between parties, saying that opposition parties should play a key role in negotiations over the makeup of the new government. He said that the new government would need "as many fresh ideas as possible."
The opposition New Era party, for its part, has nominated European Parliament lawmaker Valdis Dombrovskis to head the country's next government.

New Era has also publicly set out its ideal agenda for the new government. At the top of the party's priority list stands constitutional amendments which would allow the people to dissolve Parliament by popular vote 's a move that the party hopes will strengthen rule of law.
On Nov. 8 Dombrovskis called for new Parliamentary elections and the establishment of a transitional government, an idea that ruling coalition members have rejected in favor of a more stable long-term government.

"If New Era is ready to work in the government to benefit the country in the long run and with full responsibility, then we will be ready to use their ideas, their suggestions and to cooperate with them," Kalvitis told journalists on Nov. 12. He went on to say that New Era needs to "sort out their own issues" if it is to become a member of the new government.
The prime minister said that the opposition Harmony Center party, currently the most popular party in the country, would not be a part of the new government. He said that the country's next government should be ideologically united and right leaning. "I do not see a single reason to create a rainbow government or otherwise ideologically split government," he said.

Kalvitis told the popular evening television show "100. Pants" (100th article) on Nov. 8 that after his resignation, he will not opt to take any ministerial post and will instead return to Parliament.
The stability of the government was called into question in recent weeks after the prime minister's failure to find a replacement for Strods. The government was then plunged into an all out crisis after it lost three more ministers and was faced with mass protests following Kalvitis' decision to suspend anti-corruption chief Aleksejs Loskutovs (See story, this page).

The crisis prompted both the president and the electorate to call for the prime minister's resignation.